A Pleasant Surprise
Cairo Travel Blog› entry 1 of 13 › view all entries
We had expected Cairo to be unpleasant, but were surprised to find it absolutely engaging! Friendly people, easily navigable, enjoyable walking tours, amazing sights and great food. We did not encounter the problem with touts we'd heard about. Traffic was bad, yes, but similar to many developing countries. Bargaining was intense, but friendly.
Favorites included walking through medieval Cairo, a sunset felucca ride (we bargained down from 35 LE each to 50 LE / boat!), dinner at Abu El Sid - a delightful casbah type restaurant in Zamalek with awesome atmosphere including sheeshas but mostly uninspiring food. Try the Khosary - awesome vegetarian dish that we relied on heavily once we found out the Egyptian chickens are a bit scrawny.
Al Azhar Park was another wonderful surprise - beautiful vistas, great restaurant (Citadel View was one of the best we had in Egypt), nice people watching. The touristy bits like Khan Khalili & Coptic Cairo were enjoyable as well - especially since we went on a weekend when they were less hectic and overwhelming.
We couldn't have done half of what we did without the help of a friendly taxi driver. Hamdy Alaam was very savvy, a good driver, didn't smoke in the taxi, bargained fairly & politely, spoke fair English, and had the most delightful personality. His phone number is 0124527137 and he hangs in Zamalek.
We went expecting Egyptian timing, but were again pleasantly surprised and found everyone on time - including taxi drivers, EgyptAir, and by in large the trains.
A few comments / recommendations - go LOW when bargaining. I had expected 50% but 70-80% were common - depending on the venue. You can always tell if you're too low since they won't follow you! Also, avoid getting taxis near hotels or other establishments as the price is higher because they have to give a kick back to the proprietor.
When crossing the streets of Cairo, show intent! They won't run you over even if it feels that way. Jackie once forgot to show intent and got left on the wrong side of a 4 lane street until a helpful local took her by the elbow and helped her cross. He thought it was funny and she was incredibly grateful!
Good food (avoid the sad chicken) includes khosary, lentil soup (yum), any mixed grill, kofta and kebabs and of course the bread.
We found two days to be plenty, although Barb chose a third day to visit the Egyptian Museum. She highly recommends the Talisman Hotel : http://www.talisman-hotel.com/ as does Tripadvisor (ranked #5).
Lastly, as with all big cities, you'll find a few weirdos. Just ignore them - there are plenty more of them in New York than Cairo and we found it to be incredibly safe and friendly. Enjoy!